There has been much animated discussion on Twatter over the weekend on the thorny subject of Stop and Search. There have been suggestions (often ignored), anger, sarcasm and even personal abuse from both sides of the argument.
I have given the subject much thought over the past 48 hours and I’m not sure the two sides of the argument will ever agree on anything. My personal opinion is that is because they are approaching the same problem from two different directions, from different disciplines and with totally different objectives and agendas.
My thoughts, for what they’re worth, are these;
The law, in the form of s1 Police and Criminal Evidence Act allows the Police in England and Wales to stop and search an individual under certain conditions. (s60 is totally different and I will not be discussing it here)
A constable may exercise any power conferred by this section—
(a) in any place to which at the time when he proposes to exercise the power the public or any section of the public has access, on payment or otherwise, as of right or by virtue of express or implied permission; or
(b) in any other place to which people have ready access at the time when he proposes to exercise the power but which is not a dwelling.
Subject to subsection (3) to (5) below, a constable—
(a) may search—
(i) any person or vehicle;
(ii) anything which is in or on a vehicle,
for stolen or prohibited articles [F1, any article to which subsection (8A) below applies or any firework to which subsection (8B) below applies] ; and
(b) may detain a person or vehicle for the purpose of such a search.
Next comes what I think is the most important part of the current debate;
This section does not give a constable power to search a person or vehicle or anything in or on a vehicle unless he has reasonable grounds for suspecting that he will find stolen or prohibited articles
Unless he/she has REASONABLE GROUNDS THAT HE/SHE WILL FIND STOLEN OR PROHIBITED ARTICLES. That is the knub of the matter. Wether to Stop/Search or not to Stop/Search is an operatinal matter for the officer involved to consider and take the appropriate action at the time of the ‘incident’. Officers are accountable in this and have to record the reasons for the Stop/Search and provide (on request) a copy of the written Stop/Search record to the person who has been Stop/Searched.
What is so unclear about all of that, that it needs endless debate as to wether or not more Stop/Search would be effective? Why is it so contentious to people who have nothing to fear?
In an ideal world Stop/Search is like water, it will find its own level, a level appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and available intelligence.
Now it’s my turn to be contentious. I’m sure my reader will inform me if I’m too far off the mark.
Stop/Search (s1) is a POWER given to us by the lawmakers of England and Wales (Parliament). I see absolutely no reason not to use it as many times as is appropriate. What is vitally important is that it is used CORRECTLY. The GROUNDS need to exist. There is absolutely no reason why, in the vast majority of cases, it can’t be carried out with courtesy, understanding and professionalism. In those rare cases where the subject being Stop/Searched chooses to resist then he/she can be removed to the Police Station where the procedure can be carried out out of the glare of the public eye and under the care and supervision of the Custody Officer. What on earth is wrong with that? Why should that be demonstrably contentious?
What is vitally important for this to work is an adequate level of Training. No officer should be unleashed onto the streets and still be unsure of what their powers are under PACE and how to use them properly. At the bare minimum they should be accompanied and supervised by somebody who does know what to do.
Not Rocket Science is it?
The problem is that Stop/Search is a ‘dirty’, hands-on procedure that doesn’t translate well into the classroom or the analyst’s workbook. It is not an exact science. We can all crunch numbers and come up with a variety of hypotheses. Unfortunately those hypotheses aren’t worth the fag packets they’re written on if they’re not tested.
I’ve heard much said about Stop/Search ‘targets’, particularly one of a 20% Arrest Rate in the Met. I retain my view that such numerical targets are unlawful because they take no account of ‘Grounds’ and encourage officers to conduct Stop/Search procedures without those vitally important grounds merely to attain a Target and keep the bosses happy. Am I wrong? I suspect that the 20% rate in London is actually a figure they would ‘hope’ to achieve and not an actual target.
So, how can we appease the opposition? My suggestion is totally binary;
- Continue with Stop/Search in its current form with no changes to legislation or practice/methodology BUT it is vitally important that ALL officers (including Senior Officers and IOPC) are trained to the highest levels in what is required to constitute a lawful Stop/Search, and how to professionally conduct one.
- OR Government can repeal s1 PACE. Stop/Search will cease overnight because nobody likes it anyway and it isn’t effective and we can all sit back and see what happens to the streets of our towns and cities. maybe words like ‘causation’ and ‘correlation’ will have a clearer meaning then.